The Iris That Inspired a Garden
An Iris that Smelled Like Grape Pop Inspired My Garden
This is the story of how one flower inspired an entire garden. It's the story of an iris that smells like grape pop when the spring sunshine warms its petals. It's the story of the start of a (healthy) obsession with German bearded iris. And it's the story of what my iris flowers taught me about gardening, beauty and inspiration. Take a walk with me through the garden, enjoy pictures of iris flowers and the beauty of iris colors, and let's chat about growing, planting and moving iris flowers.
All photos in this lens are by Jeanne Grunert (that's me).
Not Many Iris Where I Come From
I grew up on Long Island, New York. I rarely saw an iris flower in the springtime. No, on Long Island the big spring flowers are azaleas. My home town of Floral Park bloomed from one end to the other with pink, red and white azaleas. By Mother's Day, nearly every house had at least one azalea bush bursting with blooms. Pansies were also popular in the spring, followed by the obligatory line of colorful impatiens planted around the foundation shrubs during the summer, replaced by chrysanthemums in the fall. I've always thought that even if fell from the sky one fine day, you could tell the exact time of year by the flowers planted in front of the urban/suburban yards in Floral Park.
But there was one iris I loved on Long Island. It grew in my in-laws garden. My mother in law had purchased the rhizome at the grocery store - you know those displays they have in the fall, bags of tulips and such? Well, she liked the flower on the carton, so she bought it. She had no idea how to grow it. My father in law just planted it next to the rose bush in their front yard and that was that. By the time I met and married my husband, the cluster of 30 year old iris was breathtaking. I fell in love with iris and had to have them, but we had no more room to grow them.
When I moved from Long Island to Virginia in late 2007, I was in for a delightful surprise. Driving along the back roads through our rural area, I saw gorgeous tall bearded iris blooming along embankments, farm lanes and yards. Great swathes of purple bloomed among the houses in town, and gardens filled with rainbows of iris glowed in the bright spring light.
Iris colors do span nearly the entire spectrum of the rainbow. I think that's no coincidence. The flower is named for Iris, a Greek goddess who rides on rainbows.
Iris like rich, well drained soil. The rhizome, a part of the root system, must be very near the surface of the plant rots and dies. When you buy bagged iris in the fall, you buy the rhizome or root part. At this time of year, it's easier to go to the nursery or garden center and purchase a container-grown iris. They're in bloom so you can see their gorgeous colors easily and choose one that's perfect for your garden.
Iris need full sunlight, so make sure you choose a spot that gets at least six or more hours of sunlight per day. Plant container-grown iris in the spring and rhizomes in the fall. The only other care they need is water during times of drought, and clean up of the dead foliage in the fall to prevent an insect pest called the iris borer that can easily plague your iris bed.
And that's it. Now are you ready to tour the garden?
Grow Great Iris
I use this reference book a lot to identify iris plants given to me by friends. Great pictures.
Most iris flowers bloom once, but a few are called reblooming iris. This is a white iris called "Immortality" growing in my garden. It is said to bloom twice, once in mid spring and the second time during the summer. I only added it to the garden last year, so this year will be the first to observe its reblooming abilities.
Bicolored Iris - "Cherub's Smile"
This is another iris I added after the purple and white iris inspired me to start an iris flower collection. This is iris "Cherub's Smile." It's a nice example of a bi-colored iris, or an iris with two colors on its petals. Some iris are varying shades of the same color, such as one with a light purple top petal and darker purple below. Others, like Cherub's Smile, feature multiple colors on one flower. It doesn't have a strong fragrance but with flowers like this, you really don't need the fragrance!
Lemon Yellow Fragrant Iris - How to Divide Bearded Iris
I wish I knew the variety of this iris. It has a delicious lemon scent to match the lemon yellow petals. My friend Joan dug up a rhizome from her yard and gave me this iris, plus several others to add to my collection inspired by the original purple and white iris.
After several years, iris plants grow into thick clusters that should be divided. The best time to divide bearded iris is in the spring, about 6 to 8 weeks after they finish blooming. Dig up the iris clump with a spade or fork and hose off the dirt from the rhizomes. Use a sharp, sterile knife to cut the rhizomes into separate plants. You can sterilize gardening tools by dipping them in rubbing alcohol.
Look over the rhizomes carefully and throw away any that are brown and mushy. Even one mushy spot means trouble so toss it out.
Replant the iris rhizomes in a new spot, digging a shallow trench. Leave a little bit of the root exposed and cover it with a bit of mulch.
The video below shows techniques for dividing and transplanting iris.
How to Transplant and Divide Iris
This video, provided by a Cooperative Extension expert, demonstrates how to transplant, divide, and replant iris.
The red iris shown here is a new acquisition. It took several years to really get established in the garden. Part of the problem is that I planted it in an area that tends to get more shade than other parts of the garden. Iris won't do as well in shady spots. I do not know the variety.
Purple Iris, a Classic
We end our tour of my iris garden with this purple bearded iris, another gift from my friend Joan. This color is a classic iris color, and here in Virginia you will see large areas planted with single colored iris, especially purple.
Irises can be grown for color, fragrance or both. With so many to choose from, you can grow a rainbow - a rainbow of iris flowers.
When I first encountered the purple and white iris in my in-laws garden, I had no idea I'd end up owning 17 acres on a tree farm in Virginia - with a large perennial garden complete with an iris collection. I just knew I loved the flower!
Each spring, I eagerly await the iris blooms. I photograph them to remember their beauty forever. From my office windows, I gaze out onto the garden and let the iris inspire my creativity when I write. They bring such joy and beauty to the garden.
Who would have thought that one supermarket iris would inspire a garden? It did. Do you know what flower I planted first when I started my garden?
An iris, of course. And not just any iris.
A purple and white iris!
Learn More About Growing Iris
Links to Cooperative Extension and university websites to help you learn more about growing iris flowers.
- Planttalk Colorado - Iris
Iris can be grown successfully in Colorado.
- HGIC 1167 Iris : Extension : Clemson University : South Carolina
Growing iris as perennial flowers in South Carolina home gardening. Landscape use of iris, soil, planting, fertilizer, dividing, borers and soft rot. Bearded, Siberian, Japanese, Louisiana, species and varieties.
- Growing Iris
Iris growing flyer online.
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